PDH to pay legal fees for Measure B petitioners

Delaine Fragnoli
Managing Editor

Plumas District Hospital directors voted Thursday, Dec. 9, to pay $35,405 in attorney’s fees to Bret Cook for his pro bono work on behalf of Measure B petitioners Skip Alexander, Robert Zernich, Bob Herr, Dennis Clemens and Martin Brutlag.

The settlement notes that although the parties disagree about the appropriateness of the fees, they agreed to settle to avoid further litigation.

Directors approved the settlement on a 3-0 vote. Directors Kathy Price, Bill Wickman and Dr. Mark Satterfield voted aye. The other two directors, Valerie Flanigan and John Kimmel, recused themselves because they have business interests with Cook.

The agreement is the latest step in a 15-month controversy over higher-than-expected property tax assessments to pay for bonds for a new hospital building.

Alexander, who helped lead the “cap the tax” effort, was glad to have the matter resolved, “I never dreamed of ever being involved in anything like this — but it’s nice to know that people can be heard.”

He emphasized that he and his fellow petitioners felt compelled to take the district to court when it refused to proceed with the election process. “We said wait, we have a right to the initiative process.”

The five men filed suit Feb. 8, 2010, in Plumas County Superior Court asking the court to appoint an election official for PDH so their proposed initiative could proceed through the election process.

They also asked the court to reserve jurisdiction to order the initiative to a vote, should the district not do so in a timely manner after the petition was certified.

In addition, the men wanted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the district from issuing or selling any further bonds, pending adoption of the proposed initiative or election by the voters of the district.

PDH officials originally refused to name an election official, saying the petition was illegal, because it would require the district to break its contract with bondholders for the bonds it had already issued.

The court ruled in the petitioners’ favor May 10, and the measure to cap the tax rate at $50 per $100,000 of assessed value proceeded to election, where it passed with 52.39 percent of the vote Aug. 31.

Satterfield, who serves as chairman of the board, said the only potential exposure remaining in the aftermath of Measure B passage was with United Healthcare, which holds the $3.2 million in bonds the hospital already issued.

The tax cap could potentially impair the district’s ability to pay on the bonds, but assessed valuations within the district would have to drop considerably before that could happen, according to Satterfield.

He expressed confidence that PDH could reach an agreement with United Healthcare without litigation.

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